Tuesday, March 15, 2011

7 wonders of the world's 2 Machu Picchu

. Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Machu Picchu
The Incas were a powerful and sophisticated empire, but they lacked three things that were common to almost every civilization in the world: a written language; the wheel; and the arch. It’s amazing how they were able to communicate long-distances without a written language, how they could transport huge stones and vast amounts of gold without the wheel, and how they were able to create such monumental architecture without the arch.
Nonetheless, Machu Picchu is stunning accomplishment (all the more in light of the above!). Built in the mid-15th century, it ceased to be a functioning city once the Spanish conquistadors arrived. Because of its remote location, it was one of the few Inca cities not discovered/plundered by the Spaniards.
In 1911, Yale professor Hiram Bingham “discovered� Machu Picchu with the help of some locals, and due to its dramatic locale, surmised that it was the “Lost City of the Incas� (and he wrote a book by that same name propounding this theory). There is still debate about Machu Picchu’s original function, but it was probably a sacred site and definitely not, as Bingham thought, the last Inca capital city named Vilcabamba. (Incidentally, that same year, Bingham also “discovered� another Inca city named Espiritu Pampa, and dismissed it as unimportant. It has since been proved that Espiritu Pampa is, indeed, the lost Vilcabamba. So Bingham did find the last Inca capital but picked the wrong city to focus on! Or maybe he picked the right one, because Machu Picchu is a lot more impressive-looking than Espiritu Pampa.) Bingham brought a lot of the treasures of Machu Picchu back to Yale University where they resided in Yale’s Peabody Museum for 95 years. In 2006, the Peruvian government demanded a return of the artifacts, and Yale finally complied. I was an undergrad at Yale, so I enjoyed seeing the Machu Picchu exhibits, but I can understand why Peru would prefer to have the items back!
My perspective:
It’s not easy to get to Machu Picchu—you have to: 1) fly to the Spanish capital of Peru (Lima), then 2) fly from Lima to the Inca capital (Cuzco), then 3) either hike for three days through the Inca Sacred Valley (tour guide mandatory) or take a train for several hours through the same valley (you have a choice of trains, but I recommend the glass-ceilinged one for spectacular views) to the small town of Aguas Calientes, and finally, 4) take a bus to the top of the mountain to Machu Picchu. But ooohh, how worth it the effort is!!
Once at the top, there are amazing views of the surrounding mountains as well as the Urubamba River flowing far below in the valley. Machu Picchu means “old mountain� in Quechua, and facing you will be Huayna Picchu (“young mountain�). Be sure to see the following: the Condor; the Temple of the Sun; the Room of Three Windows; and the Intihuatana (a marker at the top of Machu Picchu that was the “hitching post of the sun�). Like the Pyramid at Chichen Itza, this Intihuatana stone was in line with the Spring and Autumn Equinoxes.
Check out the stonework. The Incas were primarily stonemasons and goldsmiths, but only the stone remains. Unfortunately when the Europeans came with their “guns, germs, and steel,� they held the Inca emperor Atahualpa captive (eventually killing him), took all the gold, and melted it down into bars and shipped them back to Europe. If you look at all the gold decorating European cathedrals today, most of that is Inca gold. So all that we have left is the stone, but what stones! They are huge, of all different shapes and sizes, but fit together snugly like a jigsaw puzzle, without mortar, yet completely earthquake-proof!
Between Cuzco and Machu Picchu are plenty of other Inca cities worth seeing, such as Sacsayhuaman (pronounced almost like “sexy woman�!), Tambo Machay, Puka Pukara, Ollataytambo, Pisac, and Qenko. You can purchase a combination pass that will get you admission into all of them.
Beware of soroche (the Quechua word for “altitude sickness�)! Cuzco is at 3500m above sea level, and you should drink mate de coca tea to offset the sickness, otherwise you will have shortness of breath, nausea, and headaches. Despite the fact that Machu Picchu is on top of a mountain, and Cuzco is in a valley, Cuzco is actually at a higher elevation than Machu Picchu.
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